Shedding layers

From reluctantly going vegan to my ever-changing ratio of working/stay-at-home-momness, things have been changing  a lot in my personal life lately. Another area in my life that has had a lot of changes — my waistline! But before you roll your eyes (too late!) and get annoyed, this is not going to be that kind of post. Trust me.

In fact, this post is all about perceptions. How we perceive ourselves. How others perceive us. And how we move in the world based on all those perceptions, both internal and external.

So, as I’ve already shared, I’ve lost a lot of weight over the past year. Well, I did have a baby! I’ve lost about 90 pounds from my peak pregnancy weight, or roughly 20 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight. But this process of shedding pounds has had the interesting side-effect of causing me to confront some ideas about who I think I am — how I perceive myself. And there’s been some happy and not-so-happy discoveries there.

Let me explain what I mean…

Size matters:

I have never been one of those people who feel like they have to fit into a certain size. I have always felt that what was most important was fit. If your clothes fit, are comfortable, and are functional for your life, that’s the key. For me, clothing choices have always had more to do with what I think a piece of clothing is saying about me more than what department I shop in. For the better part of the past decade, I’ve been wearing plus-size clothing. It bothered me a little in the beginning but over time the only thing that bothered me was that it was so hard to find things that I liked because most plus-size clothing is aimed at middle-aged and senior-aged women. (Thank God for the internet!)

Even when during pregnancy, my weight gain did not bother me. I accepted it as a natural part of the journey I was on. Indeed, I kind of relished a respite from having to worry about “looking fat.” Who cares if you look fat when you’re pregnant? (Well, I guess some people do. But I think those people are a little delusional.)

So, it came as more than a surprise to me a couple months ago when a size large fit. Perfectly. I had taken a handful of XLs into the fitting room with me and they were all huge! But rather than do a little happy dance, I had a weird feeling about this development. (And yes, I recognize that this is evidence that I am really neurotic.)

I know I should have been feeling really happy that my weight loss had resulted in going down so many sizes. And in some ways I was happy.  But I also had this weird panicky feeling. It was almost a sense of loss. I’m not plus-size anymore? Where do I shop now?  I almost had the inverse of the size attachment that so many women struggle with. But instead of stubbornly insisting that I was a size 4, I couldn’t quite let go of the mental image of myself that I was plus sized. Even if the image reflected back in the mirror gave me instant proof otherwise!

You can’t just give it away:

I know some of you may be getting annoyed that it sounds like I’m complaining about weight loss. But, stick with me on this.

So, all this size changing necessitated shopping for new clothes. And that led me to a lot of stores I had never been to before (not for myself anyway): H&M, Banana Republic, The Loft, J. Crew, et al. It felt like a scavenger hunt. Where can I find clothes that feel like me? This new me? Who is the new me, anyway? A mom…but not an old, preppy mom. A career woman…who works at home. Someone who wants to be appropriately covered up but not a nun. A former punk rocker who feels silly wearing punk rock clothes now that I’m in my mid-30s (rocking out to Social D in the car, however, totally still viable). All these stores were foreign to me. And on top of that, considering I had been wearing maternity clothes for about a year, I have no idea what is current. But, I admit, these aren’t horrible problems to have.

What came next was a little more intense — donating my old clothes. The mantra around my house is that if something has no more usefulness to you but is still perfectly good, you give it to charity. And I live by a philosophy of donating in balance to what I buy. I don’t count it out item-for-item, but if I bring in a bag of new clothes, a bag of old clothes has to go. This is not just good karma, but good for the earth, too.

But at first, I really had a hard time letting go of the old clothes. Some of those pieces I had for years! Some of those things were well-loved favorites, things I turned to time and time again when I needed a sartorial pick-me-up. These clothes had been the proverbial needles in haystacks of so many plus-size stores. They represented hours of painful hunting and gathering. And, deep down, I felt that these clothes represented me. I felt a kind of grief as I looked at the pile on my bedroom floor. And, I felt like The Jerk. I don’t need [any of these things]! Except this pen… Because I kept wanting to pick up those two or three pieces that I really loved and save them from the donate pile!

But, I did donate them! And I did it for a few reasons: (1) What good are they doing in a box in my closet? (2) Someone out there who is plus-sized is going to be really, really happy to find these things (because larger sizes are so hard to come by in thrift stores and donations to shelters). And (3) …

Out with the old, to make way for the new:

I can’t move forward if I keep one foot anchored in the past. And it’s the same with these weight/body image/identity issues.

One of my best friends was at my house when I went through my clothes. Like me, she had gained 70 pounds while pregnant. And, like me, she has had tremendous weight loss. She knows how hard it has been to lose all that weight. She knows how hard it is to get used to your body after having a baby. (Because I may have lost a lot of weight, but my body composition is TOTALLY different now.)

At one point, while emptying my closet, she looked at me and said, “If you don’t get rid of it, it’s like saying you know you’re going to gain the weight right back.” And that was the kick in the ass I needed.

I believe in back-up plans. But holding on to old clothes that don’t fit is just a self-fulfilling prophecy in waiting.

From past to present:

Perhaps the biggest piece of this is that living in the present is not as easy as it sounds. It’s easier to hang back and remain with what is comfortable and known. But even something as simple as cleaning out your closet can be a cathartic release of the old memories or old personal identity that you are hanging on to. Isn’t that what the mid-life crisis is all about — the disconnect between who you were and where you are now in life?

And the weight loss, which has come from really hard work and has happened so much slower than it might seem (sorry, no short-cuts here: eat right, exercise), comes with an emotional price, too. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I have lost the weight! But it has challenged me to think about some old issues from my past.

For a long time, I kept weight on to make myself feel safe. I was a really skinny kid and adolescent. As the survivor of sexual violence, being fat was a way for me to avoid thinking about certain things. Putting weight on my bones made me feel like I was less sexually desirable to predators. And I was just bigger. I felt less like a frail, little girl. And that made me feel less afraid. Unfortunately, I think it also contributed to a lot of my bad health issues (which have improved dramatically with the weight loss). So, not only was the weight a crutch in my emotional healing, but it was a liability in terms of my overall health.

The “wrap it up” sign is blinking:

I’m not going to lie. It has been rewarding to lose all this weight — and all this baggage! It has come with surprises and unforeseen challenges, too. But now that I have shed so many layers, I can finally see myself, again. I was buried for a long time — under so much emotional baggage and then so much physical weight and then so much sickness. And I think the journey to undo all that has kept me looking backwards — looking into my past — for a long time. It’s good to finally turn to face the present. And the future. I’m really grateful for that.

And it’s about time! After all, I have things to do! For instance, I need to get it together and start modeling healthy habits and healthy body-accepting behavior for my smart, happy little daughter. So she can stay happy, healthy and loving herself and give her the tools to deal with all the crap that is going to come her way, trying to dismantle her self-esteem and body confidence.

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